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How To Stop A Toddler From Hitting In 3 Easy Steps

Figuring out how to stop a toddler from hitting is no easy task! And if you are a first time mom, it’s even more shocking. Each of my kids went through an experimental toddler hitting and biting phase around 20 months. Instead of falling off my chair in shock that my perfect baby could do something so mean, I said, “It has begun” and got to work.

This is very normal, and I’m going to share how to stop a toddler from hitting, biting, and pushing that has worked very well for us with all 3 kids.

The bad news is you won’t be off the hook by tomorrow. The good news is, the hitting only lasted for about a month with each of our kids.

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Your toddler understands you perfectly and is capable of learning self control

There is a lot of information out there about how much your child understands under age 2. I know as a first time parent I was often confused about how much my son could understand because he was a late talker.

One of the biggest shockers to me as a mom was realizing that kids can understand WAY more than we think, and they can definitely understand tone and body language.

One day I asked my newly walking toddler to put a dirty shirt in the laundry basket (curious to see if he could understand those directions) and he ran to the back of the hallway and did it! This was way before he could talk.

My point here is that by the time your child starts hitting, they can understand most of what you say and you can use tone and facial expression to make your words more clear.

If you want a great book to help you think through how to understand and better discipline your toddler, I purchased and loved “No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame” While I don’t follow all her advice, it was extremely helpful and utilizes a lot of natural consequences for teaching toddlers.

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Step 1. Remove your toddler and tell them hitting is not safe.

If you’re a mom, you know that an 18 month or 2 year old has a tiny attention span. Which means you have to deal with hitting/biting/shoving that instant.

You can’t wait one minute. Or until you get home. Because they have already forgotten what you are talking about. Remove them from the situation to talk to them, or hold them if needed.

When our kids have tried hitting or biting (usually sometime between 18 months – 2 years) we hold their arm and tell them, “No, you can’t hit. That’s not safe. Show me gentle!” I use this phrase a LOT for about 1 month and then it’s pretty much done.

Stay calm when your toddler hits you

Wait for their reaction. It might be tears, a full on tantrum, or they might try to squirm free to do it again. They might be embarrassed or mad. Or they may just stare at you to see what you’re going to do.

My advice is to stay calm and just tell them what you expect. Don’t shame them, or give them a huge lecture. But see it as a teachable moment!

Step 2. Show them what to do instead of hitting.

Thanks to my smart husband’s advice, any time we tell our toddlers not to do something, we try to tell them what they CAN do so there is no confusion. My goal here is to model a gentle behavior for them.

Also we can cheer and clap for them as soon as they do it, which works like magic! Sometimes this looks like:

  • Modeling your hand softly rubbing their arm. Since toddlers naturally copy what they see (eventually), you are teaching them what to do instead.
  • Waiting for a turn with the toy they want. If your toddler pushes or hits to get what he wants, it’s your job to show them that won’t work.
  • Teaching them to say please when they want something instead of hitting to get it. If your toddler can’t talk yet, you can easily teach them please in sign language! It’s simply rubbing a hand on their chest.

Step 3. Praise them like crazy when they are gentle.

Never underestimate the power of clapping and cheering for a toddler desperate for attention when they show self control after trying to push or hit!

Unfortunately, sometimes your toddler may be too emotional to get here right away. You are not a bad mom if so.

Your job in the moment is to keep your kid safe, others safe, and to be firm with what you expect of them. But when my toddler calms down and copies me by gently rubbing my arm, I cheer for him and say, “That’s so nice! So gentle!”

You will help them to want to be gentle and kind just to get all that good attention.

How to teach your toddler to be more gentle

how to stop a toddler from hitting parents and other kids

We have tried to teach the word “gentle” as soon as possible by showing them what gentle is with a hand on the arm or cheek while saying gentle.

Starting this, even around 1 years old, helps them to know what you do want from them when the hitting phase starts.

Here’s how I handled my toddler hitting me

My nursing toddler first hit me (with a huge pout face) when he wanted to nurse after I said, “not now”. He didn’t get what he wanted and lashed out with emotion.

In this situation I held his hand while saying in a firm and serious voice, “We don’t hit. That hurts. Show me gentle.”

He squirmed and tried to get free to do it again, now even more frustrated. I held him until he could calm down and show some self control.

At the first sign of a calmer toddler, I said, “That’s better!” And I’d take his hand to lightly stroke my face or arm saying, “gentle” or “that’s polite, good boy”.

No, I wasn’t able to nurse him just because he calmed down…he was still mad. But he wasn’t hitting me.

Side note, I don’t have them practice “showing me gentle” to another kid if they hit, because often times they just need space or to be picked up. (And, I’m afraid of them hitting the kid a second time, especially if it’s a stranger’s kid!)

Stay close by your toddler until they are no longer hitting

If there’s ever a time to be a helicopter parent, it’s when your toddler tries to hit or bite! It’s the fastest way to shut it down.

If your toddler just hit for the first time, or not, you have work to do! Expect they’ll try it again.

The fastest way to put an end to it is to catch it and correct it every single time. If that’s even possible. As a stay at home mom, it’s a little bit easier because I’m with them all day. But I don’t see everything.

If you are not with them all day, you can still be consistent with your expectations when you are around.

Reasons behind the toddler hitting phase

Sometimes toddlers seem to be hitting for no reason other than to see what will happen! Most the time they are mad about something.

Either way, once your precious angel lashes out and hits your chest or walks up to another toddler and whacks them, don’t panic. Hide the smoke that’s coming out of your nostrils.

Toddler hitting normal, and all 3 of my kids have tried it before age 2.

But it can’t continue because it’s not safe. Our job is to teach them boundaries and self control, which in turn makes them happier and you too. Follow these tips for preventing aggressive toddler behavior.

Reasons toddlers hit

They are curious.

What will happen if I…(bite my sibling’s arm or smack mom in the face).

They are upset.

These poor little things have to be taught how to handle emotions. What’s appropriate and what’s not isn’t obvious to them at first.

No self control.

Self control is not natural! It’s taught and also practiced. It’s never too early to start teaching toddlers self control, even at 18 months. It’s how a baby can be taught not to touch a light socket, or refrain from hitting.

Need more attention.

Sometimes toddlers hit because they want you to pay attention to them. Hitting works to get your attention.

My experience is that it always goes well for me when I pay more attention to my kids than less…not saying that I do it enough.

Try praising them for dumb little things that are good, rather than saying mostly “no, stop that, don’t hit, put that down…” You get the idea. I’ve done it both ways and positive attention wins every time!

Over tired.

At some point with each toddler I’ve seen them hit because in all reality they NEED their nap. If this is likely the reason, you just gotta get through it, try not to blame them, and it sucks.

They want what someone else has.

Toddlers have to be taught they can’t hit to get what they want. Maybe it’s a toy at the park. If this happened, it’s really important that they don’t get what they were after unless they do what you ask. Like wait till the other toddler is done playing with it. Or say please, etc.

Should you discipline when a toddler hits?

In addition to the 3 steps mentioned above, (remove them, show them what to do instead, and praise them if they show a gentle touch) using natural consequences has worked really well for us.

If my toddler whacks my chest or hits me when he wants to nurse, I don’t let him nurse.

If he hits his sibling to get a toy, he cannot have a turn until he asks kindly (even if that’s saying please in sign language).

If he pushes a kid out of the way to get up the slide first, I take him off the slide and make him get in line or not slide.

What not to do, speaking from experience

What hasn’t worked at 2 years old (give or take half a year) is time out or speaking harshly. It ends up being a harder problem to get them to stay put or stop howling from a pack n play.

And then they are just mad about being stuck, and you can’t address the hitting that happened 3 minutes ago because it’s been long forgotten.

Try to deal with toddler hitting privately

Another thing that often doesn’t work well for me is to try and work through it while other people are watching.

It opens up the door for a toddler to become embarrassed and feel like they have to perform or test you in front of people (maybe in-laws, siblings, friends, or strangers out in public). Plus, it also puts you on the spot to in an already volatile situation.

When possible, I always to try to take my child to another quiet room so there is no pressure on me or them to have it figured out or “be right” in front of others.

Stay consistent

Stay calm, set your boundaries every time, and reassure them that you love them! There are a lot of emotions in that little body.

Have you been hit by your toddler yet? What challenges have you had so far with your toddler? Leave me a comment below and I’ll respond! Also be sure to pin this to read again later 🙂

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Kate

Sunday 26th of April 2020

Hi My 19 month old is not talking yet but has started hitting and kicking usually during diaper changes. I tell him not to hurt momma and hold his legs down. But he just continues. I like the idea of show me gentle and I try to use it if he hits but kicking or biting doesn’t seem to have a gentle equivalent. Any ideas?

Liz

Monday 27th of April 2020

Hi Kate, It's common that kids around that age start kicking during diaper changes. All mine did at some point. You know your child's intentions best, and you can still reiterate the need for him to be gentle with mom and say that kicking hurts. One thing that worked really well for me is to start saying "bottoms up" for getting the diaper under them and "bottoms down" to put a diaper back on. Then praise them when they do for being so helpful. At some point soon you also might be able to do some diaper changes standing up.

Sara

Friday 24th of April 2020

My 2 1/2 year old son is extremely strong willed, high energy and can be stubborn. He’s also in the phase of independence. He’s hit in our churches nursery (I’ve been told randomly like out of boredom). I haven’t witnessed that. He mainly hits me when he’s mad, if I won’t let him play with a pen let’s say. I’ve gotten the book hands are not for hitting. I also have been trying to hold his arms and say no hitting but then now he tries to bite me when I do that so I send him to time out to cool off and then get down to his level and talk to him about no hitting that hurts mommy and what can you do to make mommy feel better and then we hug and I tell him I love him. I don’t think time out has been effective but I don’t know what else to do when he is hitting, biting and I can’t get him to calm down by just saying no hitting try to breathe or stump your feet. Ive also tried to just ignore him but he will keep hitting me until he gets my attention. I know a lot of his actions are attention seeking. I just am back and forth how to handle the no hitting bc it’s been going on for awhile. Any advice? Thanks!

Liz

Friday 24th of April 2020

Hi Sara, While remembering that this is just a phase and that it's normal, here's a few ideas for you. He is testing the limits that's for sure. At his age he understands well. First off, ask yourself if he's doing this around nap time or when he's overly tired or hungry. Emotions run high then and it's hard to expect much of a toddler till those things are taken care of. Next, make sure that you are not giving him what he is hitting you for, until he is able to ask nicely. If he begins to hit you because he wants a pen, or wants you to look at him, tell him he cant do that (which I'm sure you do), and then show him how he can get your attention (or model in a sweet voice, "pen please". Have him practice that, and cheer when he does it. I'm sorry you are frustrated, it's a long process. The more you can be around him to consistently confront hitting at this stage the faster it will stop.

Vanessa Solano

Wednesday 22nd of April 2020

Hi, I really appreciate this, I have a 14 month old baby girl and she hits me for no reason most of the time. I try many ways to let her know she shouldn't do it but she's like I don't care. I'll put these tips in practice and hopefully she'll understand, than you so much.

mary

Thursday 19th of March 2020

Overall this was great advice! especially the part about telling children what they can do not always what they can’t do. Developmentally one of the reasons toddlers hit is because they don’t have all their language skills yet and they are communicating that way. So it is a good idea to work on talking, reading and communicating with words as they transition to the next stage from infant to toddler. Reading books and identifying pictures with words helps language. Also as far as holding the child- that does work for some children- but know your child. My youngest granddaughter needed to be left alone when she was having a meltdown... and adults could hurt a child they are trying to “restrain” In the wrong way. Liked the positive discipline.

Liz

Friday 20th of March 2020

Mary thank you for all these great tips and reminders! I know these will be helpful to moms so I'm glad you posted.

Pam

Friday 24th of January 2020

Hi, I currently babysit my 27 month old grandson daily and found your article helpful, he tends to hit when he wants something and is mad, I do the "gentle" gesture with him. but doesn't always work. he just hits again. It's a little hard for me to be tough with him sometimes because I am his nana. I think the biggest problem I also am having is I cannot get him to nap. Any ideas? He is to big for the pack and play (he just climbs out if it) and am trying to get him off the bottle also. His parents work at 5:00 am so when he comes we lay down for a couple more hours and then we are off! I know he understands everything I am saying and try to keep him busy during the day but I feel he still should nap. he is a very smart little boy. Any ideas?

Liz

Saturday 25th of January 2020

Hi Pam, Sounds like you are doing the right thing, just keep being consistent. At his age, you're right in thinking he needs his nap,even if it's short. I'm wondering if that may be part of him hitting some. I know my 2 year old has almost no self control by 3 pm if he doesn't nap. A few things you could try for naps: Give him several heads up about when it's coming, like "We're going to have lunch, read a story, and then take our naps". And again after lunch, "It's almost nap time". When my little started crawling out of the pack n play we put a crib mattress on the floor. I often had to take him back to it at first but he learned he had to stay on it for naps. Try laying next to him for a bit while you sing and rub his back or tummy. We do this every nap time and I think it helps him to settle on his pillow and start to feel tired. A fan for some white noise helps too. Around that age 2.5 we also use a dog clock (you can find mine here under "kids": https://www.amazon.com/shop/influencer-ef46c3d6) and we set it for 1-2 hours at nap time. It starts red, and they know they can come out when it turns green after they wake up. It really helps! How lucky he is to have you :-)